The Impossible Statue - A beautiful fusion of science and art

A figment of imagination realized beautifully by technology.
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Created: 5/10/2023
The Impossible Statue
The Impossible Statue

Source: Sandvik  

Great art always stands the test of time, becoming an immortal piece that lives to the tale of its master’s virtuosity that we find ourselves marveling at, even after centuries have elapsed. 

Whether it be Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa that leaves the spectators wondering in amusement about her mysterious smile, or Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s fleeting depiction of facial expressions that breathes life into his sculptures in literal sense, these art pieces have made their masters immortal.

And sometimes, as we may laugh at the prospect of replicating the flair and finesse of these old masters and think of it as sheer absurdity, we couldn’t be more wrong!

A quest to achieve the impossible

Engineering giants Sandvik have showcased an efficient use of Artificial Intelligence coupled with cutting-edge technology to bring one such great piece of art to life. Calling upon five of history’s greatest sculptors, the engineering giants have used AI to create a never-seen-before combination of the art of these five monumental artists. 

The sculptors in question are Michelangelo, Auguste Rodin, Augusta Savage, Käthe Kollwitz, and Kotaro Takamura.

The Impossible Statue - A beautiful fusion of science and art
Working on The Impossible Statue

The aim was to mix the sculpting styles of these grand masters from different eras and create a statue - known as The Impossible Statue

For starters, Sandvik used AI to create a 2D image of the statue. Then, this image was used as a reference to create a 3D model. This 3D model became the benchmark for the statue that was machined out of 2.5 tons of stainless steel, standing as a testament to Sandvik’s cutting edge tools and digital manufacturing technology. 

In the truest sense of the word, Sandvik laid it bare for the world to know that science and art actually can combine to create something that’s awe-inspiring.

Decoding the details

The whole plan was to combine the distinct artistic flair of artists from different eras and build a piece of art that the world has probably never seen before - borne out of the prowess of five great sculptors. 

Sandvik turned to famous AI services like DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion, and Midjourney to create a 2D mockup of the statue using appropriate prompts. Once this model was ready, the engineering enthusiasts used this as a reference to carve out a 3D model which turned out to be a highly uphill task, given the meticulous nature of it. 

The Impossible Statue - A beautiful fusion of science and art
Working on the base

To give an insight into the challenges, the engineers had to toil hard to estimate the depth of the statue, since the 2D version doesn’t show the backside of the statue. To tackle this issue, Sandvik used human-pose estimators to complement the initial point clouds to be sure about the completeness and symmetry of the body. 

Post this step, Sandvik used multiple game algorithms to re-create the invisible fabric, followed by the use of 3D up-sampling that re-introduced the details that had been smoothed out by the previous steps. 

The whole idea of this project was to build a challenge that would appear impossible to execute, given that there was absolutely no affinity between the artists both in terms of geography and time. 

Tested to the limit

The Impossible Statue - A beautiful fusion of science and art
The Impossible Statue

The creation of The Impossible Statue - 150cm tall and weighing 500 kgs made from 2.5 tons of stainless steel - was never going to be an easy task. Sandvik made sure of that to test the limits of their engineering skills where advanced simulations, digital twin technology and state-of-the-art hardware tools was used to make the statue come to life. 

The challenge this project posed is clearly visible from the output of the CAM programming - a whopping 40 million lines of G-code that were fed into the CNC machines. Add that to the fact that the precision of the machined statue was less than 0.03mm (30 microns) in deviation, similar to the demands put on manufacturing of Swiss watches. That's quite an extraordinary feat to achieve considering the size and complexity of the model in mind.

The Impossible Statue - Is it art or technology?

The Impossible Statue - A beautiful fusion of science and art
Finalizing the details

The Impossible Statue is quite clearly a beautiful intermingling of the two spheres that have been constantly thought to be at loggerheads with each other - art and science. 

The very idea of combining the works of some of the greatest artists to have walked this earth in itself serves as the paramount of artistic expression. On the flipside, science takes up what looks like an insurmountable challenge and fulfills it with commendable precision using advanced technology. 

In the end, it's safe to say Sandvik has once again shown the world how these two spheres, when combined, can create things that can only be marveled at.

That gives birth to another question…will AI replace humans?

The Impossible Statue - A beautiful fusion of science and art
Masters of the statue

The role of AI holds paramount importance in transforming this complex idea into solid reality. Artificial intelligence was used to a great measure to create designs based on the work of the five artists we discussed earlier. This impressive technology played a major role at the crux of the entire project, helping realize what seemed to be an idea almost impossible to execute.

However, when queried about whether AI can replace humans, Sandvik prefers to distance itself from the hot debate. The company believes the technology has a major potential to improve decision-making across various fields and plays a vital role in sustainable manufacturing in the near future. 

Also, AI enabling feedback loops will help engineering teams a great deal to learn, improve, and optimize from design to quality control. As technology embarks on a journey to improve human productivity, it won't prove to be a replacement but a great asset in the years to come.

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